13 February 2010

Teaching in the Army: Clarity, Part 1

If you've followed this blog even half-heartedly for the past several weeks, you know that teaching has been on my mind. Some months back I began a series of posts on the importance of teaching in the Army, based upon the theme of leadership for the Year of the NCO.

Well, the year-long lionization of non-commissioned officers mercifully at an end, the Army nevertheless still has NCOs. And they are still leading troops.

I started with the premise that good teaching is the principal trait of a good leader. I defy anybody to contend otherwise.

Alright. With that readily agreed to, it's time to roll up our sleeves (or unblouse them) and get into some aspects of effective instruction that has benefitted me as a teacher and certainly has relevance into teaching other Soldiers.

One such aspect of teaching and instruction that my students have made me painfully aware is the necessity of explicit communication of instrutions.

Anyone who has to teach thinks s/he is clear about everything s/he teaches. I teach math, and thus it is on my mind a great deal. By the time I teach my last class, I have reviewed a discrete topic three times, in addition to the hundreds of hours I have studied and taught it previously.

I get it. But do my students?

When something makes perfect sense to me, I take it for granted that it will make perfect sense to somebody who is just learning it.

Likewise, Army leaders think they are clear about their instructions and orders. Of course. In a leader's brain, the plan makes perfect sense. It's his, and he has gone over it within the vastness of his form-driven mind. It is usually dictated by habit and an awareness that comes with time in a particular job.

Part of that job is to communicate expectations, and patiently cultivate the awareness that often comes with time, to junior Soldiers.

Couple this with the absolute reality that questions are culturally disdained in the Army.

I also have to remind myself that the mere fact that I teach math represents a significant life choice on my part. Math means a great deal to me, and it might not mean so much to my students. That certainly doesn't excuse them from not completing requirements to do their best to learn it in high school, but I would be foolish to ignore the affect it has on their learning.

NCOs and Officers could remember these realities from a typical high school teacher in a typical high school classroom, where, if a student fails, it's sad. If a Soldier fails, the results can often be tragic.

Clarity, then, is vital.


  1. I agree. I grew up in a a household where you observed, therefore you were able to to decipher (without clear communication) what the other person was referencing. Today, as a wife of an educator, simply saying "could you get me that thing" even if I was pointing at "it" will only earn me the following response "you mean...?" which is usually the other item. So, I agree that it is important to be clear, despite how mundane the subject may be.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.